Sajida is a six-year-old girl with a rare blood disorder. She required a bone marrow transplant. This kind of treatment is not available in Libya. As a result, her father decided to take her to Europe for proper treatment. "I applied several times for visas, but all my applications were refused," he reports. "I think they were afraid that I wouldn’t be able to afford the treatment costs."

In 2016, he decided to sail to Europe with his daughter in a small rubber boat. After 33 hours, an Italian coast guard vessel found them and took them to Sicily. The girl got the life-saving treatment.

Others are not so lucky and do not survive their attempt to cross the Mediterranean in inadequate vessels. Nonetheless, people increasingly want to leave Libya in order to escape violence and lawlessness. They hope to be granted asylum in Europe, but have no safe way to get there.

Libya: gateway to Africa

The irony of the matter is that, in European history, Libya was seen as the gateway to Africa. Now Africans see it as the gateway to Europe. Though the EU and the Gaddafi regime considered one another to be adversaries, they actually co-operated on several issues, including monitoring and restricting illegal migration.

In the chaos following his downfall, no authority has been able to assume the role of being an effective governmental partner for the EU. Libya is now a transit country with porous borders and ineffective state agencies.

Zuhier Abusrewil, a Libyan journalist who specialises in migration issues, says that "Libyans in general understand the rights of Africans who seek to escape to Europe looking for a better life." In that sense, they do not share Europe's concerns.

Migration has considerable downsides, however, as the journalist points out: "Libya has been negatively affected because it largely relies on foreign workers." Today, however, foreigners no longer want to stay in Libya. Now, with the shortage of workers, wages are increasing.

The worst problem, however, is organised crime. The revenues of people-smuggling amount to hundreds of millions of euros. Local gangs have teamed up with armed militias in Libya as well as mafia cliques from Italy and Malta.

The power vacuum that resulted from the NATO intervention has thus not only undermined security, it has also given rise to a lucrative illegal industry. Daily life in Libya is nowhere close to the EU standards that people hoped for when Gaddafi fell. This disparity now defines Libyans’ idea of Europe.

Moutaz & Walid Ali

© D+C | Development and Cooperation 2020


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